Colonel Kemp: “…during Operation Cast Lead the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other Army in the history of warfare.”The long list of nonsensical charges leveled against the IDF by the international community that consists mostly of wing nuts, fruit loops and dedicated anti-Semites, does not change the fact that the IDF is one of the most moral armed forces in the world. Colonel Richard Kemp, former military commander of British troops in Afghanistan, delivered a speech this past June at an international conference sponsored by the JCPA. Read and learn. KGS
18 June 2009
International Law and Military Operations in Practice
Colonel Richard Kemp CBE
I will examine the practicalities, challenges and difficulties faced by military forces in trying to fight within the provisions of international law against an enemy that deliberately and consistently flouts international law.
I shall focus on counter-insurgency operations from the British and to some extent the American perspective drawing on recent British experience generally and my own personal experience of operating in this environment.
Soldiers from all Western armies, including Israel’s and Britain’s, are educated in the laws of war.
Commanders are educated to a higher level so that they can enforce the laws among their men, and take them into account during their planning.
Because the battlefield – in any kind of war – is a place of confusion and chaos, of fast-moving action the complexities of the laws of war as they apply to kinetic military operations, are distilled down into rules of engagement.
In the British forces, rules of engagement normally regulate military action to ensure that it remains well within the laws of war giving an additional safety cushion to soldiers against the possibility of war crimes prosecution.
In the most basic form these rules tell you when you can and when you cannot open fire.
In conventional military operations between states the combat is normally simpler and doesn’t require complex and restrictive rules of engagement.
Your side wears one type of uniform, the enemy wears another; when you see the enemy’s uniform you open fire. Of course there are complexities. The fog of war, sometimes literally fog, but always fog in the sense of chaos and confusion means that mistakes are made. You confuse your own men for the enemy.
The tragedies that have ensued from such chaos and misunderstanding are legion throughout the history of war. We call it blue on blue, friendly fire or fratricide.
And there are other complexities in conventional combat that make apparent simplicity less than simple. Civilians perhaps taking shelter or attempting to flee the battlefield can be mistaken for combatants and have sometimes been shot or blown up.
Enemy forces sometimes adopt the other side’s uniforms as a deception or ruse. But in the type of conflict that the Israeli Defence Forces recently fought in Gaza and in Lebanon, and Britain and America are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, these age-old confusions and complexities are made one hundred times worse by the fighting policies and techniques of the enemy.
The insurgents that we have faced, and still face, in these conflicts are all different. Hizballah and Hamas over here, Al Qaida, Jaish al Mahdi and a range of other militant groups in Iraq. Al Qaida, the Taliban and a diversity of associated fighting groups in Afghanistan. They are different but they are linked.
They are linked by the pernicious influence, support and sometimes direction of Iran and/or by the international network of Islamist extremism.
These groups, as well as others, have learnt and continue to learn from each others’ successes and failures. Tactics tried and tested on IDF soldiers in Lebanon have also killed British soldiers in Helmand Province and in Basra.
These groups are trained and equipped for warfare fought from within the civilian population.
Do these Islamist fighting groups ignore the international laws of armed conflict? They do not. It would be a grave mistake to conclude that they do. Instead, they study it carefully and they understand it well.
They know that a British or Israeli commander and his men are bound by international law and the rules of engagement that flow from it. They then do their utmost to exploit what they view as one of their enemy’s main weaknesses.
Their very modus operandi is built on the, correct, assumption that Western armies will normally abide by the rules.
It is not simply that these insurgents do not adhere to the laws of war. It is that they employ a deliberate policy of operating consistently outside international law. Their entire operational doctrine is founded on this basis.
In Gaza, as in Basra, as in the towns and villages of southern Afghanistan, civilians and their property are routinely exploited by these groups, in deliberate and flagrant violation of any international laws or reasonable norms of civilised behaviour for both tactical and strategic gain.
Stripped of any moral considerations, this policy operates simply and effectively at both levels.
On the tactical level, protected buildings, mosques, schools and hospitals, are used as strongholds allowing the enemy the protection not only of stone walls but also of international law.
On the strategic level, any mistake, or in some cases legal and proportional response, by a Western army will be deliberately exploited and manipulated in order to produce international outcry and condemnation.
And in sophisticated groupings such as Hamas and Hizballah, the media will be exploited also as a critical implement of their military strategy.
Thus in April 2004 as Coalition forces fought to wrest the Iraqi town of Fallujah from Al Qaida’s control the media reports screamed of a US bombardment of a mosque.
The reality of that day was that five US Marines were wounded by fire from that mosque and that the Marine commander on the ground exercised great care and restraint, only allowing fire to be directed upon the outer wall of the building.
Despite this, the damage was done and the impression that we had levelled a mosque indiscriminately was firmly established.
In Gaza, according to residents there, Hamas fighters who previously wore black or khaki uniforms, discarded them when Operation Cast Lead began, to blend in with the crowds and use them as human shields.
We have of course seen all this before, in Lebanon, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
Today, British soldiers patrolling in Helmand Province will come under sustained rocket, machine-gun and small-arms fire from within a populated village or a network of farming complexes containing local men, women and children.
The British will return fire, with as much caution as possible.
Rather than drop a 500 pound bomb onto the enemy from the air, to avoid civilian casualties, they will assault through the village, placing their own lives at greater risk. They might face booby traps or mines as they clear through.
When they get into the village there is no sign of the enemy. Instead, the same people that were shooting at them twenty minutes ago, now unrecognised by them, will be tilling the land, waving, smiling and talking cheerfully to the soldiers.
These same insurgents will mine roads used by British vehicles and tracks used by foot patrols. Many soldiers have lost their legs or their lives in such attacks.
There is of course no question of minefields being marked, as is required under international law. The idea would be preposterous, but although one of the clearest tenets of the laws of war, is rarely if ever commented on by the media.
Like Hamas in Gaza, the Taliban in southern Afghanistan are masters at shielding themselves behind the civilian population and then melting in among them for protection.